Blagojevich lieutenant Lavin battles for state

June 19, 2006

BY MICHAEL KRAUSS

Jack Lavin likes the front line. As a CFO of politically connected Rezko Enterprises, with oversight of the Panda Express fast-food chain, Lavin served up beverages in the stores. High school friends thought it odd that Lavin was behind the counter, but that didn't stop him. Lavin knew the value of serving on the front line.

Now as director of the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity, Lavin is Gov. Blagojevich's point man on economic development. On Thursday, Lavin will be out front presenting the governor's economic development strategy at a City Club lunch at Maggiano's.

Expect Lavin to outline the importance of innovation.

"We've put a strategy in place that embraces innovation," Lavin says. "It's helping with trade, entrepreneurship, and work force development." Lavin says. Illinois employment, international trade and tourism are all up.

Credit to Blago

Lavin's a team player. He's quick to credit Blagojevich. Says Lavin, "The governor has been able to do this without raising taxes."

Lavin's a busy guy. He's just back from China. His boss is up for re-election. There's talk about a new Honda plant. United Airlines is rumbling about relocating. The U.S. Department of Energy is considering Illinois for a $1 billion model plant to cleanly transform coal to electricity.

"Two thirds of our state has underground coal," Lavin says. "We have more [British thermal units] of coal than Saudi Arabia and Kuwait have oil. We need to burn it cleanly." Of the 12 possible sites for FutureGen, four are in Illinois, he said.

Lavin's approach balances major deal making -- he tirelessly worked the BIO2006 conference -- with concern for individuals. During the three days of BIO2006, Lavin was constantly out front pressing the flesh at the Illinois Pavilion.

"We exceeded all expectations," he says. "Attendance hit record levels. We generated more than 11,000 business meetings." Lavin's proud of the network BIO2006 created among businesses, universities, government and not-for-profits. The group wants to bring the show here again in 2010.

"We helped fund 23 scholarships for teachers to go to the Biotechnology Institute's Education Conference," Lavin says. That allowed Eva Aseves, a science teacher at Washington High School on Chicago's Far Southeast Side, to gain new teaching techniques.

Says Aseves, "They showed us speedier ways to tag DNA in the classroom. Our old procedure took up to eight hours of lab time. The new techniques take two to four hours. In the 21st century, students must master computers and the techniques around DNA."

Lavin's office was recently criticized for cuts in support for local entrepreneurship centers scattered across Illinois known as ITECs. Lavin blames the reduction on decreases in tobacco settlement money and the need to focus those funds on human services programs.

"We still have $435,000 in the budget," says Lavin, who plans to "take a look at the ITECs and see what's worked and what hasn't, and try to make it better. I think there is opportunity there."

Expect Lavin will look from the front lines.

Innovation rules

Three Chicago Innovation Award winners take the stage at Thursday's Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce and WBBM Newsradio 780 Business Leaders Breakfast at Maggiano's. Chicago Board of Trade Chairman Charlie Carey, Motorola VP Jim O'Connor Jr. and Turbo Tap President Matt Younkle join Kuczmarski & Associates President Thomas Kuczmarski and WBBM Financial Editor Len Walter for a no-holds-barred discussion of what it takes to succeed through innovation.

Kuczmarski co-founded the Chicago Innovation Awards with the Chicago Sun-Times in 2002. Nominations can be made at www.chicagoinnovationawards.com.

White Board Challenge

RPX Group founder Bob Okabe is sponsoring Tuesday night's Chicagoland RPX Group Innovation Whiteboard Challenge at the MIT Enterprise Forum meeting at Gardner Carton & Douglas. A dozen presenters, armed with color markers and a whiteboard, will have five minutes each to explain their business concepts to a panel of judges. The winner takes away $3,000 and the two runners-up $500 each.

"Great tech companies start with a few people in a room discussing, shaping, and refining an idea," Okabe says. He's hoping the Whiteboard Challenge will do just that.

Michael Krauss is a Chicago area tech writer and consultant.

 

 ©2006 Marion Consulting Partners